By Jim Ogul
On 31 March 2022, the Dubai world expo will close, having completed its six-month run. Expo 2020 Dubai (delayed by the pandemic, the event retained its original “2020” name) was the first world’s fair hosted in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It was a large-scale World Expo, registered by the Bureau International des Exhibitions (BIE). The larger, six-month world’s fairs occur every five years, and the next is currently taking shape in Osaka, Japan. Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai will run from 13 April to 13 October. Its theme is “Designing Future Society for our Lives.” Organizers have projected some 28 million visits. More details of Expo 2025 appear below – but first, a little history…
Osaka has a distinguished record as a world-class event host, having previously hosted a major world’s fair in 1970 with a considerable legacy, as well as the 1990 International Garden and Greenery Exhibition, which although not officially a world’s fair had the elements of one. Here is a look at both.
Osaka Expo 70: Progress and harmony
From March-September 1970, Osaka presented the first world expo hosted in Japan and Asia. Under the theme “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” there were 77 participating countries and more than 64 million visits, setting an expo attendance record that stood for four decades. The record was finally broken by Shanghai Expo 2010 which received some 73 million visits.
The Osaka ’70 expo grounds had a central Symbol Zone with moving walkways extending out to 116 international and corporate pavilions. Presiding over Harmony Plaza was the centerpiece of the Expo, the 230-foot-tall Tower of the Sun, designed by Taro Okamoto. The Tower was to be torn down after the exposition, but was saved by a preservation campaign and today lives as the Tower of the Sun Museum in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, open to the public on the original site of the fair. The structure was officially registered as Tangible Cultural Property of Japan in 2020, to mark the 50th anniversary of the expo.
In an article published on the BIE website, Shinya Hashizume noted, “The Expo 1970 site was designed to play the role of a testing ground for ambitious social experiments. A Symbol Zone, one kilometer long and 150 meters wide, was constructed in the center of the site and filled with structures including the Festival Plaza, the Tower of the Sun, the Theme Pavilion, and the Expo Tower. Moving walkways extended in all four directions from this zone…Much was made of the country pavilions such as that of the United States, which featured the actual lunar module and rocks brought back from the moon, and the Soviet Union, which boasted displays of Lenin and the Soyuz spacecraft. Also well-received were productions such as the Netherlands pavilion’s multiple image displays and the Joint Scandinavian pavilion’s slide shows, which were projected onto blank papers with visitors’ fingertips. Meanwhile, the corporate pavilions competed with new experimental video displays such as huge screens, multi-screen displays, and the projection of images onto a veil of smoke.”
Osaka 90: Flowers and pavilions
Two decades after Expo ’70, Osaka stepped up again, this time to organize and host the International Garden and Greenery Exposition with the theme “Harmonious Coexistence of Nature and Mankind.” The event took place under the umbrella of the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) which since 1960 has collaborated with the BIE to organize world horticultural expos. Because of this relationship, Osaka 1990 was in a position to leverage international participation at the federal level, comparable to a world’s fair. The six-month event ran from April to September, with participation from 83 countries and 55 international organizations and attendance of more than 23 million visits.
One aspect that really set the event apart from traditional horticultural shows was the corporate area where large Japanese corporations displayed futuristic technology. As Peter Grill reported in an April 15, 1990 article in the New York Times, “The most popular sector of the fair is inevitably the City Area, where long waiting lines surround the score of pavilions erected by Japan’s leading corporations and industrial groups. The fanciful design of most of these pavilions is dictated both by the technology contained in them and the horticultural theme of the Expo: the Mitsubishi Pavilion, for example, represents a huge sprout bursting from the earth; the Hitachi Pavilion, a chestnut tree, and the Japanese Gas Association Pavilion, a range of tree-covered mountains. Entering the fantasy worlds within these structures, visitors find themselves transported millions of miles into space or into the microcosm of a living plant cell. Computer graphics, 3-D IMAX and high-definition imaging systems provide a variety of visual and aural experiences for patient visitors willing to endure the long waiting lines. Word has quickly spread that among the most exciting of these displays is the Suntory Pavilion, with its extraordinary 3-D IMAX film of the North American wilderness, ‘The Last Buffalo.'”
Hour-long lines outside the Fujitsu Pavilion also attest to its success. Inside, visitors are suspended within a dark spherical space while 360-degree IMAX projections illustrate the theme of ‘Light, Green and Life,’ a magical rendering of the functions of sunlight and chlorophyll in sustaining all earthly plant life.”
Expo 2025: “More than an event”
Organizers of Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai expect some 150 countries and 25 international organizations to participate. As of January 2022, at least 72 countries had confirmed participation – including Germany, Greece, Italy, and France as well as many states from Africa and South America – and six international organizations.
Apart from the main theme, Expo 2025 is set to features subthemes “Saving lives,” “Empowering Lives,” and “Connecting Lives.”
The expo will be held in Yumeshima, an artificial island located in Osaka Bay. When all the landfill is completed the total area will be 390 hectares.
The construction budget is estimated at $1.7 billion (one-third to come from the Japanese government, one-third from local government, and the rest through the private sector including business organizations). The operational budget is expected to be around $800 million to be funded through ticket sales.
On February 15, 2022, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) and the Government of Japan signed an Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai See Agreement which serves as a legal framework to guarantee the privileges and conditions for official participants in the next World Expo.
The agreement was signed by the Secretary-General of the BIE, Dimitri S. Kerkentzes, and the Ambassador of Japan to the United Arab Emirates, H.E. Akio Isomata. The Secretary-General of the BIE indicated: “The See Agreement brings the formal partnership between the BIE and the Government of Japan to a whole new level and will establish the legal framework for international participants. This Agreement thus marks a new milestone in the journey towards the realization of an inspirational and globally inclusive World Expo that brings countries together to design a shared future society.”
Manatsu Ichinoki – Vice Secretary-General, Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, who attended Expo ’70 in his youth, commented on how Osaka’s expo history is an influence for the vision and theme of Expo 2025.
“The theme of Expo 2025 is ‘Designing Future Society for Our Lives,’ he said. “By cooperating with countries and international organizations participating from around the world, we would like to create new values by demonstrating new technologies and systems related to ‘life’ at our Expo and implementing them into society.”
Ichinoki spoke of empowerment. “With its theme, ‘Progress and Harmony of Mankind,’ Expo ’70 Osaka let visitors feel a bright future through exciting experiences. As a school student, I was very much impressed with its exhibition. For Expo 2025, we expect that even before the Expo opens, various participants will come together on and off the site with their technologies, ideas, and initiatives related to ‘life’ to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs [sustainable development goals] set by the United Nations.
“The Expo will offer visitors an opportunity not only to explore and observe, but also to take action themselves toward a sustainable future society. Thus, Expo 2025 will be more than an event in 2025. It will give courage and power to visitors for the future, as well as for the future generation at home and abroad. We look forward to meeting and working with the world toward Expo 2025.”